Where did Mrs. White get her Message?

By Brother Anderson

Where did Mrs. White acquire her message? Was she instructed supernaturally in visions from God? Or did she learn from the people around her?

Joseph Turner - Inspiration, Coincidence, or Fabrication?

Joseph Turner was a leading figure among the Adventists in 1845. In January, Elder Turner published an article in the Advent Mirror indicating that according to his studies, the coming of the Bridegroom had already taken place in heaven, and that Christ had moved "within the veil" in the heavenly sanctuary.

In mid-February of 1845, Mrs. White claimed to have received a vision revealing the same truth. Joseph Bates was apparently puzzled about this. He wrote the Whites a letter and asked where Mrs. White acquired her teaching on the Bridegroom. We do not know the exact reason Bates asked this question, but perhaps he was concerned because her views were so nearly identical to Elder Turner's article, and he might have been curious as to whether she acquired the teaching from him.

By the time Mrs. White wrote back to Bates in 1847, the relationship between Turner and the Whites had soured. Turner had become increasingly fanatical, claiming Mrs. White's visions were the product of mesmerism. It would have been terribly embarrassing for Mrs. White to admit that one of their major doctrines originated with a man who was now a "fanatic." Mrs. White writes back assuring Bates the doctrine came straight from God, not through the fanatical Turner:

Brother Bates,
you write in a letter to James something about the Bridegroom's coming, as stated in the first published visions. By the letter you would like to know whether I had light on the Bridegroom's coming before I saw it in vision. I can readily answer, No. The Lord showed me the travail of the Advent band and Midnight Cry in December, but He did not show me the Bridegroom's coming until February following.

Perhaps you would like to have me give a statement in relation to both visions. At the time I had the vision of the Midnight Cry I had given it up in the past and thought it future, as also most of the band had. I know not what time J. Turner got out his paper. I knew he had one out and one was in the house, but I knew not what was in it, for I did not read a word in it. I had been, and still was very sick. I took no interest in reading, for it injured my head and made me nervous.

After I had the vision and God gave me light, He bade me deliver it to the band, but I shrank from it. I was young, and I thought they would not receive it from me. I disobeyed the Lord, and instead of remaining at home, where the meeting was to be that night, I got in a sleigh in the morning and rode three or four miles and there I found J. T. [Joseph Turner]. He merely inquired how I was and if I was in the way of my duty. I said nothing, for I knew I was not. I passed up [to the] chamber [bedroom] and did not see him again for two hours, when he came up, asked if I was to be at meeting that night. I told him, No. He said he wanted to hear my vision and thought it duty for me to go home. I told him I should not. He said no more, but went away. I thought, and told those around me, if I went I should have to come out against his views, thinking he believed with the rest. I had not told any of them what God had shown me, and I did not tell them in what I should cut across his track.

All that day I suffered much in body and mind. It seemed that God had forsaken me entirely. I prayed the Lord if He would give me strength to ride home that night, the first opportunity I would deliver the message He had given me. He did give me strength and I rode home that night. Meeting had been done some time, and not a word was said by any of the family about the meeting.

Very early next morning J. T. called, said he was in haste going out of the city in a short time, and wanted I should tell him all that God had shown me in vision. It was with fear and trembling I told him all. After I had got through he said he had told out the same last evening. I was rejoiced, for I expected he was coming out against me, for all the while I had not heard anyone say what he believed.1

Notice the facts of this situation:

  • Mrs. White was in Turner's house at least two hours and was apparently alone for awhile.
  • She was aware that Turner's recent article was in the house. Either she saw it or someone told her it was there.
  • She had both the time and the opportunity to read the article.
  • She had a very intense interest in that particular subject.
  • Despite her profound interest in the subject, she claims she did not read the article because she felt "sick."
  • That evening she arrived at the meeting at her family's home after Turner had made his presentation.
  • She claims that her family did not say a word about the presentation to her, despite her and her family's profound interest in the subject.
  • When she finally relates the vision to Turner, he replies that he "told out the same last evening."

It is difficult to believe Mrs. White did not sneak a peak at Turner's article while she was in his house for over two hours. Furthermore, it seems nearly unbelievable that her own family did not say a single word to her about Turner's presentation in their home a few hours earlier. This was a very important topic of discussion among Adventists at that time. It is hard to believe an important doctrinal presentation could be made in her own home to her own family and friends, and yet none of them said a single word to her about it.

What about Turner? Did Mrs. White's vision convince him of her prophethood? Not exactly. Shortly afterward, they became bitter enemies, each making accusations against the other. Mrs. White writes:

"Joseph Turner labored with some success to turn my friends and even my relatives against me. Why did he do this? Because I had faithfully related that which was shown me respecting his unchristian course."2

It is obvious that Turner had serious doubts as to the inspiration of Ellen White.

Joseph Bates--Inspiration or Fabrication?

As far as Bates is concerned, we will never know whether or not he found Ellen White's explanation of the Joseph Turner situation believable. We do know that Bates had serious doubts about whether this young, teen-ager was truly a prophetess of God. When the Whites first met Joseph Bates they were poor and in need of an influential friend. Bates, on the other hand, was always looking for someone to convert to his unique views. Bates had strong convictions about the seventh day Sabbath and the shut door of salvation. The Whites agreed with Bates on the shut door, but they saw little value in the Sabbath. Eventually Bates managed to convince the Whites to keep the Sabbath with him from 6am to 6pm, and it was not long before Ellen White was having visions supporting Bates' view of the Sabbath.

At the beginning of their relationship Bates had some serious doubts about Mrs. White's gift. However, a vision on Bates' favorite subject--astronomy--finally convinced him she was authentic. Bates listened intently as Mrs. White made motions as if flying through space while she described Jupiter with its four moons, Saturn, and Uranus. Bates must have been pleased to hear that Jupiter is inhabited by "a tall, majestic people" who had never sinned (to read more about this vision, click here). Bates was apparently curious as to where Mrs. White learned about Astronomy, because after the relating of the vision he began asking her questions. Mrs. White assured Bates that she had never studied the subject.

While the source of Mrs. White's knowledge of Astronomy remains a mystery to this day, it is apparent that she did not obtain it from God. God never showed her a tall, majestic people inhabiting Jupiter because decades ago scientists proved that Jupiter is uninhabited. In fact, the surface of the planet is liquid, not solid. It is interesting to note that while Mrs. White got close enough to Jupiter to see its inhabitants, she only saw exactly what astronomers of her day had seen through their telescopes: 4 of its 79 moons. She also failed to see the rings that were discovered in 1979 by the Voyager space probe. Mrs. White's knowledge of Astronomy included knowing four moons orbited Jupiter, seven orbited Saturn, and six orbited Uranus. It is likely she learned those facts from a tract that Bates had published earlier sharing the same information.

William Foy--Inspiration or Coincidence?

It is clear that early in her prophetic career Ellen Harmon was obtaining the material from her visions from others. In fact, at least one of her very first visions appears to have been appropriated from the prophet William Foy.

As a teen-ager, Ellen went to hear Foy speak about his visions on a number of occasions. Shortly after her first vision in 1844, Ellen met with Foy and she "had an interview with him."3 Later that evening she attended a meeting and was invited to share her vision. She did not realize that Foy was in the audience. As she began speaking, Foy leaped to his feet and declared it was just what he had seen! Oddly enough, he excused himself from the meeting and there was no reported contact between him and Ellen White after that point. Later, in 1845 when he published his visions, he had them copyrighted. (To learn more about this incident, click here)

Health Teachings--Inspiration or Fabrication?

Up until 1863 the Whites had shown little interest in health. All that changed, however, in January 1863, when the White boys became ill with Diphtheria. James had the good fortune of coming across an article about curing Diphtheria written by Dr. James Jackson, a health-reformer known nationally for his water treatments.

In 1863, the Whites ordered some of his books, and in 1864 they went on the first of several trips to Dansville, New York, where they became acquainted with the doctor. They learned that he encouraged his patients to eat properly. No red meat, sugar, coffee, tea, alcohol, or tobacco were permitted at his institution; instead, the emphasis was on fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grain. Jackson also promoted a two-meal-a-day diet.

Mrs. White also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Harriet Austin at the Dansville clinic. Dr. Austin advocated a reform style of dress for women. Although Mrs. White had previously written a testimony against the reform style of dress, her experience at Dansville apparently changed her mind. It was not long before a testimony came out in support of the reform dress.

Not surprisingly, during this time period Mrs. White began having some visions about health, and she and James began travelling around the churches sharing the health visions Ellen had received from God. Some of those attending who were familiar with Dr. Jackson were quick to recognize that James and Ellen were merely repeating Jackson's health teachings. They began questioning whether this health message had originated with God or Dr. Jackson, and that question is still being debated today. (To study this subject of Dr. Jackson's influence on Ellen White further, click here)

The 1888 Message--Inspiration or Coincidence?

In 1888, at a church conference, God sent a message of Righteousness by Faith to the Seventh-day Adventist church. It was essentially the same message taught by the great Protestant reformers for centuries, but apparently the Adventist church had lost sight of the message in their legalistic zeal to promote the Sabbath message. Rather than send the message to the church's appointed prophetess, it appears God chose to send the message through two young ministers, A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner.

While many of the brethren at the conference resisted the message, to her credit Mrs. White endorsed it heartily:

"The message given us by A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church, and woe be unto anyone who professes to believe the truth and yet does not reflect to others the God-given rays."4

Mrs. White even went so far as to claim she had known the 1888 message all along. When questioned about it, Mrs. White claimed it was the message she had been preaching for 45 years:

"I have had the question asked, what do you think of this light which these men are presenting? Why, I have been presenting it to you for the last forty-five years,--the matchless charms of Christ. This is what I have been trying to present before your minds."5

At first she says she has been presenting the message for 45 years. Then in the next sentence she said she was trying to present it. A review of the books and articles written by Ellen White over the first 45 years of her ministry reveals little, if any, of the Righteousness by Faith message. In fact, the reason that many of the brethren gave for rejecting the message is because they felt it contradicted the earlier writings of Sister White. In 1889, Mrs. White wrote of SDA ministers:

"The ministers have not presented Christ in his fullness to the people, either in the churches or in new fields, and the people have not an intelligent faith. They have not been instructed as they should have been, that Christ is unto them both salvation and righteousness."

If the SDA ministers and people were not instructed as they should have been, why wasn't the "prophet of God" instructing them on this subject for 45 years?

After 1888, Jones and Waggoner began touring the SDA churches presenting the message of Christ's righteousness. In 1890, E.J. Waggoner published a 96-page book entitled Christ and His Righteousness. Mrs. White followed in 1892, with her own book about Jesus, the 126-page Steps to Christ. She later followed that book with Desire of Ages, and Christ's Object Lessons. Following in the foot-steps of Jones and Waggoner, her writings after 1888 became much more Christ-centered and righteousness-by-faith oriented. Thus, she appropriated the righteousness-by-faith message as her own, began preaching it, and claimed she had known it all along for 45 years, but had somehow failed in trying to communicate it.

To top it all off, despite the fact that she endorsed Jones and Waggoner more than 200 times in her writings, both men ended up rejecting her prophetic claims and leaving the Seventh-day Adventist church.


Where did Ellen White get her message? Did she receive divine messages from God? Or did she depend upon human sources for her message? You decide.


1. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 5, pp. 95-97.

2. Ellen White as quoted in Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, Vol. 1 - 1827-1862, page 87-88.

3. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 17 p. 96.

4. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 15, page 92.

5. Ellen White, Manuscript 5, 1889.

6. Ellen White, Review and Herald, Sep. 3, 1889.

Category: Visions Examined
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